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Fentanyl testing strips are illegal in Idaho, but House Bill 441 seeks to change that

The Idaho Capitol building shown in Boise.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mia Maldonado Idaho Capital Sun

A bill making its way through the Idaho Legislature would legalize the use of fentanyl testing strips.

Fentanyl testing strips are legal in most states, but under Idaho law, they are considered paraphernalia. Rep. Marco Erickson, R-Idaho Falls, and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, have teamed up to change that through House Bill 441.

In a House Health and Welfare Committee hearing Thursday morning, the cosponsors said the bill would declassify fentanyl testing strips as paraphernalia. The bill, they said, would act as a step to prevent fentanyl overdoses in Idaho – where 49% of overdose deaths in 2022 involved fentanyl, or 188 deaths out of 381 drug overdoses.

“This will be just very helpful for people to be able to cheaply and easily make sure they aren’t being inadvertently poisoned by fentanyl,” Rubel said.

Fentanyl testing strips are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which considers the strips a low-cost way to prevent drug users from overdosing by detecting the presence of fentanyl in different kinds of drugs and drug forms.

Erickson, who has worked in drug treatment and prevention, said Idaho is one of six states where the testing strips are criminalized. And yet, fentanyl strips can be ordered online through websites like Amazon, he said.

Committee members heard from two university students and a representative from the ACLU of Idaho during Thursday’s hearing, all of whom testified in support of the bill.

Caden Stone, the government relations officer for the Associated Students of Boise State University, began his testimony by recalling his time as a high school student at Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene, when one of his 15-year-old classmates died from a fentanyl overdose.

“Now I understand folks’ reservations about decriminalizing opioid testing strips,” he said. “But the reality of the matter is (overdoses are) happening. We must use testing strips to avoid every unavoidable death that we can. We’ve been taking action on campus as student leaders. Lives are being saved, and we want you to join us.”

Members of the committee voted to send House Bill 441 to the House floor with a recommendation that it pass.

This is at least the second bill this year in which Idaho legislators have made it clear that addressing fentanyl overdoses is a priority. Also on Thursday, the Idaho Senate in a 28-7 vote passed House Bill 406, which would require mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl traffickers. After passing both chambers, House Bill 406 is now headed to Gov. Brad Little for final consideration.